He felt it. Oh, how he felt it. The ice-cold surface on which his left cheek was firmly placed. In any other case, he would have laid on his right cheek, but seeing as it was torn up by countless gashes and slashes from the crude whip which had repeatedly been drawn over his pale, white skin, lying on the right side was hardly an option.
“Ash Tsuga, do you know why I punish you so?” asked the white-robed man, who stood towering above the young elf on the stone altar.
He was holding a leather whip between his hands, which were gnarled like the roots on an old tree. The whip was giving off a strained, stretching sound as it was twisted between the priests veiny, grey hands.
A condescending smile had overtaken the elderly priest’s lips as he watched his elven brother bleed on the otherwise beautifully engraved, white stone block, which served as the church’s altar.
“I’m not asking you for the sake of asking. If you would like for me to explain, I would be completely willing to educate you. After all, that is why you’re here in the first place—for the sake of education.”
The elf who had been called Ash was lying with his back to the priest, so neither of the two could see each other’s faces. Had they been able to, though, each of them would likely have been much inclined to rip out the throat belonging to the other party. Ash’s face radiated pure disgust, pain, and other equally unpleasant emotions. The priest, on the other hand, kept his condescending, demeaning smile smeared across his face.
“Well, allow me to educate you then,” the priest began, after waiting a bit. “You see, being a slave, in the eyes of our god, Icarus, is an honor. Still, though, you decide to murder your master in cold blood, thereby shaming our lord’s benevolence toward a lesser being such as yourself.”
The elderly priest took a few seconds to catch his breath. He preached with such dedication that he even gave breathing second priority when it came to pleasing the God of Light, Icarus, to whom the church was dedicated.
Seemingly fed up with the old man’s endless chatter, the elf finally spoke up.
“If your god would be as kind as to—“ he began, but was halted by a sudden wave of pain that came shooting up his spine at the lash of the whip, which the priest had suddenly decided to use.
Even still, the elf continued his monologue before the priest could start lecturing about talking when he hadn’t been asked to do so.
“—have his loyal servant finish the work that has been cut out for him, I would be very grateful,” finished the elf with a defiant smirk, even though it remained visible to no-one but himself.
Offended, the priest clicked his tongue. He had a habit of doing that. Ash knew that, because the two of them had found themselves spending an awful lot of time like they were currently doing.
“I see, you blame Icarus and myself for punishing you. Let me tell you something: you are entirely at fault here. Your very existence, the fact that you’re only half-human is what makes this kind of punishment necessary. We have to purge the unholy genes that taint your being, therefore we-“
“So you whip me,” finished Ash.
“Exactly,” came the response.
Their exchange of words had been short, but apparently, the elderly man thought it too long; or maybe he was just annoyed at the blabbering elf. It didn’t matter, in reality. The fact of the matter was that the elf was getting whipped.
His screams were carried out of the church, making them audible throughout the entire courtyard outside. The elf kept screaming, until he was tired of doing so. In the end, his screams turned to pained groans, and the pained groans to nearly inaudible whimpers as time went by.
By the end of it, when the priest had grown tired, Ash laid on the altar, bleeding and broken. And the worst part of it wasn’t even the torture—it was the helplessness. The young elf kept lying down for a while. He didn’t have the capacity to rise to his feet; they felt so gelatinous, and his body so wobbly that he was unsure of whether or not he would be able to stand on his own.
He called out for the nuns whom he knew were always present in the church, yet no-one came. No matter how badly he had been broken, the elf never received any hospitality from anyone. He was a stranger, an outsider, and an outcast; what good could helping him possibly do? After all, he was an inferior and blasphemous being whose only mission was to shame all that was good.
A tear fell to the ground where it landed in a ray of light. Quickly, the water evaporated on the hot pavement behind the altar. Vanished into nonexistence.
When the nuns finally came, hours later, they approached the elf to a symphony of sobbing. They carried the elf out, healed him with conventional medicine, even though the seniors at the church would easily have been able to heal him with a snap of their fingers. Unlike the nuns, unlike the young elf, they commanded magic; a luxury that was only taught to the more trusted members of the church.
The more devout you were in your worship of Icarus, and the more money you donated to the church, the more trusted you became; the more things you would be allowed to learn. If you sacrificed everything and became their loyal dog, as long as you were human, you would be able to rise through the ranks of the grand organization known as the Church. Ash had no chance of rising through any ranks. He had no opportunity to become any more than a mere servant. He was a lowly elf, after all—an unholy creature, who should be thankful for even having been let inside the church’s walls. To him, the church was nothing more than a prison.
Time passed, and even though the elf was unaware of how long, he knew that time was indeed flying by. At some point, he had stopped counting the seconds of his torment, and instead turned to thinking of absolutely nothing.
More time went by. There was complete silence around the elf as he tried to focus on clearing his mind of every single thought, no matter how insignificant. However, he quickly found that to be impossible, because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t ignore a certain thing within himself. A flame; an inextinguishable flame. One, which would burn until it had burnt down everything around it, leaving behind only barren, dead earth, and a void, which was once the world.
Suddenly, Ash found himself lying on a floor. It wasn’t the white, sterile pavement that made up the church’s floor, nor was it the dusty cement that made up the young elf’s room. It was pure darkness. Not darkness covering stone, but darkness covering more darkness. Blackness that made one question if light truly existed.
Ash, however, only found himself wondering how he had gotten there. After all, he had been lying completely still, somewhere in the church. Not once had he gotten up to move, much less find a dark void to lie down in.
“Hello?” he called out into the darkness.
There was no response, yet the young slave still felt that someone, or something, had heard him.
His suspicions were confirmed, when he felt someone grasping his shoulder. He whirled around, anxious to find out who was spying on him. Although to his great surprise he saw no-one. There was nothing around him, and there were certainly no people.
Ash slowly turned around again, and stood face to face with a white, theatrical mask.
The young elf felt goosebumps all over his body, as a chill ran down his bandaged spine. As strange as it was, though, Ash didn’t feel scared. He had long since figured out that he had fallen asleep; he was dreaming.
“Who are you?” he asked, head tilted to the side.
A quiet chuckle came from underneath the crude, smiling mask, as the man, who was wearing it stood up. Apparently, he had been bending down almost ninety degrees in order to look him right in the eye. In reality, he was twice as tall as the young elf, who stood, flabbergasted by the enormous man before him. His height wasn’t even the most monstrous thing about him. His limbs appeared twice as long as they should’ve been, making him seem extremely thin. He was like a spider without the excess legs. The man was dressed in a black, fancy tuxedo, which looked like something you could expect to see at a nobleman’s ball.
“I am Evitagen,” said the creature with a voice that seemingly came from everywhere.
Ash was about to ask more questions, but was interrupted by the monster called Evitagen.
“You most likely wonder why you are here. Do you not? Well, I am here to tell you. You are here to answer one question. Nothing more, nothing less,” began the creature, and held a long, dramatic pause.
The young elf didn’t even make an attempt to get a word in, and thusly just stood still, wondering what the tall, thin man was going to ask him.”
“What do you desire?”
And just as he asked that question, the space collapsed on itself, shattered like glass, leaving Ash sitting alone in his dark, damp, and dusty room.
He had a hard time comprehending what had just happened, and stood out of his bed. The young elf had always found himself thinking better when standing up. But even though he did that he couldn’t understand what had happened, even though he tried as best he could.
In the end, he could say nothing but “It was a dream.”
But something inside him told him that something was off. It couldn’t have been a dream. It had seemed to real to be something as simple as a dream. No, it had to be something more.
It had to be salvation. It had to be a chance.
“What do you desire?”
The question resounded in his mind, and quietly, so he wouldn’t wake the priests, the nuns, and the monks, the young priest whispered his answer.
“I desire power.”